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The Never-Ending Technology Race

As nations, companies and individuals compete to stake claims to the electronic no-man’s land called cyberspace to exert control, the battles will get bitter, bloody and baffling.

In waves that make the ‘star wars’ of the 1980s seem like the movies they were named after, the computer systems of the UK government are constantly under persistent cyberattack.

This information was reported in 2010 by GCHQ, the government’s eavesdropping agency. Commenting on it, Tom Espiner of ZDNet UK said worm attacks and drive-by downloads disrupted government systems, plus about 20,000 malicious emails every month. GCHQ said about a thousand of those emails were targeted at specific employees.

Attacks have increased in intensity, frequency and sophistication. Attackers scrape information from social networks to give their approaches more credibility, to trick receivers into opening them.

Other attack threats against the national computer infrastructures of transport, communications, military and power come from criminal, terrorist, drug, sabotage, commercial espionage and intellectual property sources. There is no end to threat dangers.

It’s Got Worse

Now all major countries have acknowledged the threats to their well-being and security by setting up agencies, defence armies of specialists, marshalling the unparalleled power of  technology-artillery to resist unseen, unknown insidious attacks from within and without.

In May 2011, Nick Hopkins of The Guardian broke the news of a massive new (£650 million) offensive of options to defend our critical installations. Whitehall mandarins have recognised that it’s not enough to bolster defences, but we must be pro-active in the battleground.

Hopkins found that the new weapons would be governed by ‘the same rules that apply to the deployment of other military assets such as special forces’. They’re aiming for ‘a toolbox of capabilities’, available for use as demands dictate. The programme is high power – Cabinet Office level and GCHQ, with MoD input to follow.

Conflict Without Borders

This is ‘conflict without borders’; the enemy is viruses as varied and evolving as they are in the natural world. The stakes are as high as can be. The damage that just a handful of viruses can do have already proved terrifying. The struggle between hackers and net guards is never over. The fear of nuclear and biological warfare has to be a possibility.

The thinking is that if human minds and computers together can dream up the attacks, then other human minds and different computers can defeat them. Armed Forces Minister Nick Harvey told Hopkins: ‘with cyber, the finger hovering over the button could be anyone from a state to a student’.

Sleep well in your beds. They’re looking out for us …

Photo: NASA

Sources:

  • ZDNet UK, Tom Espiner, 13 October 2010.
  • The Guardian, Nick Hopkins, UK developing cyber-weapons programme to counter cyber war threat. May 2011.